Copyright 1996 David C. Reardon. Excerpted with permission for from Making Abortion Rare, published by Acorn Books, PO Box 7348, Springfield, IL 62791-7348 for internet posting exclusively at www.afterabortion.org. All Rights Reserved.
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The idea that "abortion is an act of despair" is one of the key points I have always tried to stress in my writing and speaking engagements.(1) Despair is not only the driving force behind most abortion choices, it is also the greatest obstacle to post-abortion recovery. Until pro-lifers understand this, they will never be effective at helping women in crisis.
In describing the despair which leads women to abort, Frederica Mathewes-Green of Feminists for Life of America, gives us this compelling word-picture: "No woman wants an abortion as she wants an ice cream cone or a Porsche. She wants an abortion as an animal caught in a trap wants to gnaw off its own leg."(2)
This quote is so powerfully accurate that it has even been reprinted by Planned Parenthood. Why? Because pro-abortionists have long wanted to diffuse the notion that women abort for selfish or casual reasons. They want the public to sympathize with the desperation of women seeking abortions because they want to convert sympathy for women into support for abortion.
Actually, the fact that most women agonize over the decision to abort is one of the few areas for finding "common ground" in the abortion debate. Most, if not all, counselors and researchers, on both sides of the political issue, would agree that most abortion decisions involve elements of fear and despair.
But simply because a woman agonizes over an abortion decision does not make the decision morally acceptable, not even to the women themselves. In fact, post-abortion research suggests that the more a woman agonizes over making an abortion decision, the more she is likely to agonize over the abortion afterwards. Maternal desires, moral doubts, and feelings of being exploited do not disappear after an abortion. They continue. They grow. They become sources of constant reflection, or stifling avoidance. They can even become the source of a crippling self-condemnation.
Escape Through Self-Destruction
Returning to Mathewes-Green's analogy of an animal gnawing its leg off to escape a trap, we see that abortion is actually an act of self-destruction. When pro-abortionists view a woman in this desperate situation, their solution is to offer the woman a clean, legal way of cutting off the offending leg -- after all, they believe there are too many unfit "legs" in the world already.
But what abortion counselors fail to tell women who are choosing abortion is that the loss of their "leg" will leave them crippled. Just as many amputees, they will experience the feeling of a "phantom leg." This missing part will leave them less whole and less capable. And at times this missing piece of will cause an indescribable ache and a flood of uncontrollable tears. In escaping the trap, they will have lost a part of themselves.
Contrast this approach to that of crisis pregnancy centers where pro-lifers are committed to finding a way to open the jaws of the trap to save both the woman and her "leg." Pro-lifers insist that there is always room for hope. There is always a way to avoid a destructive amputation -- a way which in the long run will be appreciated by both her and her "leg."
What we see in these two perspectives is the difference between despair and hope. Despair inevitably leads us to accept abortion. Hope always leads us to embrace life.
Hope is a virtue. It is centered on God, the source of all hope. Despair is a sin against hope. It is one of Satan's greatest weapons.
The Weapon Of Despair
Despair involves a loss of faith and trust in God. In the case of abortion, the desperate woman has lost faith in the promise that God has a plan for her life, and a plan for her child's life.
Desperate people try to take control. They try to save whatever they can by doing whatever needs to be done -- which may include betraying their own values. For example, when the Nazis undertook the extermination of millions of Jews, the sheer magnitude of their task required them to develop ways of soliciting the cooperation of the victims. There were too few soldiers to contain millions of rebellious Jews. So it was necessary to manipulate their victims so that they would choose to cooperate for at least one day at a time. The Nazis did this by exposing the Jews to limited threats; the victims were always left with the bit of hope that by submitting to the present indignity, there was something else which could be saved. According to sociologist Zygmunt Bauman:
At all stages of the Holocaust, the victims were confronted with a choice (as least subjectively - even when objectively the choice did not exist any more, having been pre-empted by the secret decision of physical destruction). They could not choose between good and bad situations, but they could at least choose between greater and lesser evil... In other words they had something to save. To make their victims' behavior predictable and hence manipulable and controllable, the Nazis had to induce them to act in the 'rational mode.' To achieve that effect, they had to make the victims believe that there was indeed something to save, and that there were clear rules as to how one should go about saving it.(3)
These choices were presented in a way that discouraged reflecting on the decisions from a moral perspective. Instead, the victims were pressured to make rational decisions based on the rational need to "save whatever we can."
Using this demonic strategy, the Nazis encouraged the empowerment of Jewish ghetto leaders who would see to the needs of the people, coordinate distribution of medicine and materials, maintain morale, etc. These same leaders were then manipulated into cooperating with the Nazi extermination program. They were confronted with the agonizing choice of cooperating with the Nazis or witnessing the slaughter of their people. At first the cooperation was in "small" things, maintaining a ghetto police force, providing lists of names, selection of ghetto residents to be sent to "resettlement" projects, providing transportation to pick-up points, and the like. In some cases, when the Nazis wanted to punish the entire community for some infraction, Jewish leaders were even forced to select and arrest the desired number of victims who were to be publicly executed by the Nazis. And always, no matter what the request, the leaders were told that by cooperating they were saving the lives of the majority who remained. Leaders who didn't cooperate were eliminated. Leaders who did cooperate saved their own lives and those of their families, at least for a time, and were left to agonize over their complicity.
The similarity between Nazi manipulations of the Jews and the abortionists' manipulation of women faced with crisis pregnancies is striking. Just as the Jews were forced to choose between losing everything, or just a little, so abortion counselors encourage the victim-woman to view "this pregnancy" as a threat to everything she has, her relationships, her family, her career, her entire future. She is assured that by sacrificing this one thing (a tiny unborn child), she can save the rest. During this process, the victim-woman is urged to view the abortion decision not as a moral choice, but as a rational choice of "saving what you can."
But in fact, just as those who reluctantly cooperated with the Nazis discovered, the bargain is a false one. The demands on ghetto leaders to sacrifice more and more victims never stopped. And so it is with the post-aborted woman. After her child is destroyed, she faces self-condemnation, lower self-esteem, difficulty with relationships, substance abuse, career problems, a cycle of repeat abortions, and more. Often she experiences an intense desire for replacement pregnancies to atone for her lost child, and she becomes a single parent, the very problem she sought to avoid in the first place - but now she also has to deal with the emotional scars of an abortion.
The Devil versus Christ
It is significant how differently Christ and the Devil appear before and after any sin, in this case, abortion. Before the abortion, Christ stands, with his arms outstretched to block the way, saying, "Do not do this thing. The sacrifices you must make now will be rewarded a hundred fold. I offer you life, so that you may live life abundantly. Place your hope in me and I will not abandon you."
The Devil, on the other hand, insists, "You must get rid of it. Look at all you will lose... You have no choice. You have already gotten yourself into this problem. Now you must get yourself out. Do this one thing and then you will be back in the driver's seat of life. Things will be the way they used to be."
Christ asks us to trust in a plan for our future which we do not yet fully understand; Satan urges us to act now, to take control, to save what we already have. Christ asks us to make a moral decision rooted in hope; Satan asks us to make a "rational" decision based on present needs, desires, and fears.
But after the abortion, how do they appear? Afterwards, Christ continues to offer hope: "Come to me. I want to share your tears. I want to comfort you. Know that all is forgiven. See, your child is in my arms waiting for you to join us when your day is completed."
Satan on the other hand continues to fan the flames of despair. He who pretended to be on her side now stands as her fiercest accuser. "Look at what you have done! You have murdered your own child! Can there be anything worse than that? There's no hope for you now. You are nothing. You're beyond redemption! You may as well seek what little comfort you can in the bottom of a booze bottle, in the silence of suicide, or in the embrace of an affair. And if you get pregnant again, you've already had an abortion once, so you might as well do it again--it may even help you to get tougher and more immune to this pain. It makes no difference now. You've proven you can murder. Nothing can be worse. And, oh, how you must hate those people who led you to this. Your boyfriend, your parents, your doctor. There is no one you can trust. There is no one who can love YOU -- a murderer. You are alone. Your best hope is to bury your past. Hide it from others. Hide it from yourself. But remember it will always be yours alone to bear."
Before the abortion, Christ condemns it and Satan makes excuses for it. After the abortion, Satan is the one condemning it while Christ wants to forgive it.(4)
This is the Devil's bargain. He encourages women to submit to abortion in order to avoid losing what they already have. But once they have chosen it, he tries to keep them trapped in despair so as to strip away everything else. Indeed, Satan pumps as much despair into her life as he can generate. And not only into her life, but into the lives of the child's father, and grandparents, and siblings, and everyone else he can touch with the poison of abortion. His purpose is threefold: to generate misery, to encourage more sin, and to create doubt in the unfathomable mercy of God.
Despair and Forgiveness
For many post-aborted women, the forgiveness of God is a precept which they can mouth, but it is difficult for them to digest. How can they be forgiven? The horror of their sin is so great. Many know that they must believe in God's forgiveness, and they do so in an act of faith. But how can they feel forgiven, when every instinct in their nature says they cannot be forgiven, even should not be forgiven?
I certainly do not have a complete answer to this complex question, but I do believe we can offer more than simply the truth that "God can forgive any sin, even abortion." While this is a revealed truth, it is also a conclusion for which we can develop a greater appreciation if we look at some of the reasons behind this truth. As we look, I believe we will discover not only truths which must be shared with post-aborted men and women, but also truths which explain why our focus must be on ministering to them, not accusing them.
Assume that I am on a joy ride, speeding along for thrills. I see a flash of light. A bump. And I know I've killed someone. I run to the victim. He's thoroughly dead. An innocent man has been killed because of my negligence. My guilt is very real, and well deserved. But a moment later my victim jumps to his feet alive and uninjured. Now the guilt is gone! I am spared not by my virtue, but by his immortality.
In just the same way we have all been forgiven of murder. Because by our sins, of whatever type, each of us is guilty of crucifying Christ. Because of our sins, He was killed on the cross. His blood is on our hands. Yet on Easter Sunday, He rose from the dead. He is not dead at all! The guilt has been lifted.
Words to a Grieving Mother
"But my child did not rise from the dead," a post-aborted woman complains. "She is truly dead, and I am guilty of her death." But to such a woman I would respond that this is another example of her guilt being twisted into despair.
Death is an experience, not a state of being. For "God is not the God of the dead but of the living. All are alive for Him." (Luke 20:38) When your child was killed by abortion, he or she experienced death. But your child is not dead in the sense of destroyed. Your child, like us all, is immortal. Death cannot keep her down.
C.S. Lewis explains it well when he writes: "There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization--these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit--immortal horrors or everlasting splendors." Damned or glorified all people live on. (Matt. 25:46)
Therefore, like Christ, your child lives. You're guilt can be removed precisely because God has already preserved your child from destruction. He lives! She lives! They all live in Him!
Remember, your abortion was a result of your failure to trust God. In giving you that pregnancy, God was giving you the opportunity to love. But you rejected this gift because you did not trust God's plan for you. This lack of trust and obedience is at the root of all sin, yours and mine. So it is only right that the reparation for abortion is found not by clinging to guilt and despair, but by trusting in God's love. You failed once in rejecting His gift of a new life. But now He has a new plan for you, a second gift which He passionately desires for you -- the gift of His forgiveness, the rebirth and renewal of your spirit.
To refuse God's mercy is to refuse His love. Don't insult Him by refusing His forgiveness. Accept God's forgiveness, not because you deserve it, but so that God can use you as an instrument for showing the abundant glory of His mercy. Accepting the gift of God's forgiveness is actually a humble thing to do. It is your first step toward an obedience which is rooted in both faith and hope, and it is your only escape from the tar pit of despair.
The Worst Evil
In a sense, (and I write this asking the reader's forbearance for my inability to express this more precisely), since immortal persons cannot be destroyed, only their bodies which must await their resurrection, the greatest tragedy in killing is what this sin does to the killer. This does not deny that the killed have been unjustly deprived of life, but we know that God will be merciful toward these innocent victims. We should be more concerned about the eternal fate of the killer.
Even Socrates, a pagan philosopher, recognized that in terms of preserving the nobility of our character, inner virtue, and our very souls, it is better to suffer evil from others than to do evil ourselves. Specifically, Socrates argued that those who do unjust acts are becoming unjust; those who reject their obligations to others are becoming irresponsible.
Because he believed that moral character was more important than physical well-being, Socrates believed that harm which is done to one's body is less important than harm done to one's "inner self" as the result of immoral choices. In the case of abortion, he would argue, the harm done to the mother's soul is a greater moral evil than the physical wrong suffered by the unborn child who remains innocent.
There is nothing in this argument which is contrary to Christian thought. As we have suggested above, and will discuss further in the next chapter, the unborn child who suffers physical harm from abortion is an immortal being whose innocence will be recognized and rewarded by God. But the spiritual damage done to those who are involved in abortion, directly or indirectly, individually or socially, is immeasurable.
Let us look at the spiritual meaning of abortion from another perspective. We begin by recognizing the Judeo-Christian teaching that children are always a gift from God. Because God is the author of all life, no child is conceived by accident. Each has a part to play in God's design. This providential purpose includes not only the child's destiny, but those whom the child's life touches. For parents, the conception of a child may be intended to lead them to greater generosity, responsibility, and a greater understanding of the meaning of unconditional and sacrificial love. (Even in the case of experimentation on in vitro human embryos, God allows these human lives to be conceived so that scientists and the eugenicists who fund them can prove their depravity and thereby justify their final judgment.) No life is created without a purpose. It is our role to simply find and cooperate with that purpose.
Thus, whenever we reject the gift of new life, we are rejecting a gift from God! Obviously, this is an insult to the Giver. But it is an insult which will be mercifully forgiven. And as members of the body of Christ, we are called upon to be mirrors of God's mercy and ambassadors of His forgiveness. While we can do nothing for the unborn children in heaven, there is much which we can do for the women and men who have been so morally wounded by abortion.
In brief, without in any way diminishing the horror of abortion, I am confident that children killed by abortion are in the enviable position of living in the glorious presence of Christ. Furthermore, if the salvation of souls is the greatest of goods, then the damnation of souls is the greatest of evils. Thus, the greatest evil of abortion lies in the spiritual damage it inflicts on the women, men, and families (and politicians) who are ensnared by it. It is these bleeding, bruised, despairing, and even rebellious souls who are most at risk. It is they to whom Christians need to reach out with the good news of forgiveness and hope.
To read the rest of this chapter, order Making Abortion Rare, today. Order Making Abortion Rare Today
1. See Aborted Women - Silent No More for twenty testimonies of women who have had abortions.
2. Mathewes-Green, Real Choices, 19. Real Choices is another excellent book examining the pressures which push women into unwanted abortions.
3. Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press, 1989) 130.
4. This general description of the stance of Christ and Satan before and after sin is drawn from the audio-tape "The Devil" by Archbishop Fulton Sheen and is applied here specifically to the case of abortion.
Copyright 1996 David C. Reardon. Excerpted with permission for from Making Abortion Rare: A Healing Strategy for a Divided Nation, published by Acorn Books, PO Box 7348, Springfield, IL 62791-7348 for internet posting exclusively at www.afterabortion.org. All Rights Reserved.
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